Super Friends! “The Mysterious Moles” (part 1 of 8)

SUMMARY: The Justice League goes up against their biggest threat… Oh wait, never mind. It’s just a wimpy scientist and his Rosie O’Donnell-esque wife.

In 1973, the animation juggernaut Hanna-Barbera released a version of the very popular Justice League of America comic into the wilds of Saturday morning television.

Featuring the all-star lineup of Superman (voiced by Danny Dark), Batman (voiced by Olan Soule) and Wonder Woman (voiced by Shannon Farnon, I think), with support from Robin (Casey Kasem) and Aquaman (Norman Alden), you’d think it would’ve been a superhero blowout of epic proportions, a triumph of animation that would be revered for all times and spoken of in the same tones of hushed awe that come upon folks who’ve seen guys like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird in their primes.

You would be wrong.

Super Friends! "The Mysterious Moles" (part 1 of 8)

There’s a great book out there called Saturday Morning Fever that goes into things with a little more depth and finesse than I care to get into right now, but the basic situation at the time was a rather over-the-top emphasis on good values and pro-social behavior in cartoons, causing them to come off as more pandering and condescending than was probably intended.

There were also more valid concerns around the advertising being run during the programs, concerns which were amplified in the ‘80s with Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe, which were basically toy commercials with a little plot and action thrown in for flavor.

Personally, I have no problem with teaching good values and proper behavior. I do, however, have a problem with dumbing down stuff for kids because of an overly protective group of adults arbitrarily deciding how a story should be told. It gets even worse when you have psychiatrists rather than writers and directors determining a show’s content.

In the ‘60s, there was a bit of an uproar over superheroes that, much like the uproar over horror comics in the ‘50s, was truly much ado about nothing. At least nothing any sane, rational person capable of independent thought would be truly bothered by.

The effect on our subject today was… Well, the nicest way I can put it is that it sucked. Rather than going after well-known villains like the Joker and Lex Luthor, the Justice League was reduced to fighting an assortment of well-meaning but misguided nitwits (usually mad scientists, or aliens which were nowhere near as cool as they could be), with an overbearing “message” hammered into the skull of each and every viewer by the end.

Another result of the previous decade’s outcries was the superheroes on this show not being able to do anything too violent. That’s right, there were no fights at all in these early episodes. Just bland, homogenized superheroics, tied together with a nauseatingly obvious message at the end.

This all might have been tolerable, if not for the horrifically obnoxious trio of Marvin (voiced by Frank Welker), Wendy (Sherri Alberoni), and Wonder Dog (Welker again, poor bastard). Yes, for some reason, it was decided that the most powerful superheroes on the planet—powerful to the point where just one of them could kick the shit out of a problem in no time—really needed two teen sidekicks and a dog that sort of talks/barks.

Actually, I think I know the exact reason they were added, and it can be summed up in two words: Scooby Doo.

Super Friends! "The Mysterious Moles" (part 1 of 8)

But then again, it’s possible the kids were added to show the Justice League’s sense of charity towards the mentally challenged. Because while Wendy might have one or two sporadically active brain cells, and the dog must have something going on upstairs, since he can talk (just go with me on that one), Marvin was more than likely that one kid in school who ate paste.

The series eventually got better, with Marvin and Wendy being dumped after season one in favor of the outlandishly bizarre shit seen in Challenge of the Super Friends, and things improved even more from there as the series got into the mid-‘80s. But today, we’re dealing with the first season. So strap in folks, your 45-minute (yes, the show ran in a one hour timeslot) torture session begins… Now.

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Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Super Friends! "The Mysterious Moles"

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